Music

Ladies and gentlemen, Sting!

From The Police to his superstar solo career, Sting presents 'My Songs' in Taos

By Laura Bulkin
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 9/1/19

Two masters of rebirth and reinvention -- Sting, and special guest Fantastic Negrito -- will take the stage Monday (Sept. 2), 7 p.m., at Kit Carson Park, 211 Paseo del Pueblo …

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Music

Ladies and gentlemen, Sting!

From The Police to his superstar solo career, Sting presents 'My Songs' in Taos

Posted

Two masters of rebirth and reinvention -- Sting, and special guest Fantastic Negrito -- will take the stage Monday (Sept. 2), 7 p.m., at Kit Carson Park, 211 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner was rechristened Sting when he was still toiling away in small clubs in northeast England. A fellow musician commented on the beelike appearance of his black-and-yellow striped sweater, and the name stuck.

American-born drummer Stewart Copeland was touring with progressive rock band Curved Air when he saw Sting onstage, playing bass for a Newcastle jazz-fusion ensemble called Last Exit. Within months, the two hit London, recruited guitarist Henri Padovani -- later replaced with Andy Summers -- and became The Police.

The band paid traditional dues, trudging from town to town in relative obscurity, until they built a following with hits like "Roxanne" and "Message in a Bottle." More recordings and world tours followed, and by 1980 The Police were international chart-topping stars. Sting continued to learn, grow and evolve throughout the climb. He taught himself other instruments, deepened his songwriting and took on acting roles in film, television and theater. He also began making solo appearances at benefits and humanitarian events.

In 1985, he released his first solo album, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles." On that album, as on his subsequent solo work, his songwriting has showcased his strong jazz influences, global activism and personal spiritual values.

Monday's Kit Carson Park concert will be the last official date of a tour that began three months ago in Paris, France. The tour, called "My Songs," celebrates Sting's new album of the same name. In announcing the album release earlier this year, Sting described it as: "My life in songs. Some of them reconstructed, some of them refitted, some of them reframed, but all of them with a contemporary focus."

Monday's concert is officially sold out (although at press time, some online outlets were still offering tickets at vastly inflated prices), but seats are already on sale for Sting's three-month residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, beginning in May 2020.

Opening for Sting here in Taos will be the artist who began this lifetime with the name Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, and has lived through several near-death experiences to be reborn as Fantastic Negrito.

The Grammy-winning singer, musician and composer was raised in Massachusetts, with a devout Muslim Somali-Caribbean father. The family relocated to Oakland, California, when he was 12, and Negrito recalls that he "went from Arab chants to Parliament Funkadelic in one day, living in the heart of one of the wildest, most infamous, most vibrant black communities in the nation."

He became inspired to teach himself to play music after listening to Prince's 1980 "Dirty Mind" album, and hearing that Prince was a self-taught musician. At the same time, he became caught up in the battlefield of what he described as "street shit." A close encounter with masked gunmen inspired him to pack his bags and head south to Los Angeles, armed with a demo tape on cassette. The demo was impressive enough to score him a seven-figure record deal, but he soon found that the Hollywood lifestyle, along with the constant industry pressure to produce something "commercial," could be a battlefield every bit as perilous as Oakland street life.

In 1999, a near-fatal car accident left him hospitalized and fighting for his life for several weeks, followed by months of grueling physical therapy to regain use of his legs. The experience was life-changing, and served as impetus for another rebirth. As Fantastic Negrito, he returned to Oakland and to his own musical roots. Rather than obsessing over what would sell, he asked himself, "What moves me?" What he found moving was Delta blues. He has incorporated that foundation in his own unique alchemy of vocal virtuosity and funk, rock and R&B influences to create a riveting, irresistible sound.

With this new soul-centered dynamic, he entered and won the inaugural NPR Tiny Desk Concert contest. His album "The Last Days of Oakland" picked up a 2017 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues. He won a second Grammy in the same category for his 2018 release, "Please Don't Be Dead." His enthusiastic fan base includes Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Soundgarden's late, lamented Chris Cornell, with whom he toured the world.

We caught up with Fantastic Negrito by phone as he was waiting to board a plane to the UK for an appearance at the Greenbelt Festival.

"I skipped the clubs and started playing on the street," he said of his creative rebirth after the car crash. "After Los Angeles, I didn't want to be hip or cool. I just wanted to play the music for the people. When I was young and on the way up in the business, I was about what I could get out of it. Now, I'm interested in what I can put into it. What I can contribute. I love that word, 'contribute,' you know? Especially in this era we're living in now. And since I've become a parent -- for me, that's when I started living and learning in a whole new way. Living for other people is pretty amazing."

This will be his first year performing in New Mexico. "I'm excited about coming out there. I've been through there before and remember the beauty of it," he said. "It'll be great to do these shows there. And sharing a stage with Sting is a great honor - he's a legendary artist and creator. I hope people enjoy it. My intention is love and elevation, always. I'm in this so I can be of service to people, be of some kind of value to humanity. I'm grateful to have found that the things that nearly kill you can end up being of value to other people. For all of us, all of humanity, there are endless possibilities of building this village despite all efforts to tear it down.

"For me, the 'Fantastic Negrito experience' is something like church without the religion. It's a spiritual high, a catharsis, like group therapy for all of us. Music is our medicine in this polarized time. Getting together, forgetting our differences. No matter if you're on the left or the right, gay, straight, conservative -- if you like the groove, the ass will move."

Before the Sting event, fans can catch Fantastic Negrito in Santa Fe on Saturday (Aug. 31), 7-10 p.m. at the Railyard Plaza, 1607 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe. The concert is presented free of charge as part of the 2019 Levitt AMP Santa Fe Music Series.

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